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The mind thieves the min.., p.6
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       The Mind Thieves (The Mind Readers), p.6

           Lori Brighton
 

  “You all right?” he asked, watching me curiously.

  I glanced down the hall once more. No familiar blonde.

  “What?” he asked again as he led me toward the line.

  “I don’t know… I thought…there was a woman in the bathroom just now. I saw her at the market earlier this morning.”

  “Yeah, so?” He might have seemed nonchalant, but I didn’t miss the way his gaze flickered around the airport. Did he find Blondie’s appearance just as weird as I did?

  “So…I don’t know. I got a bad feeling.” I flushed, realizing I sounded ridiculous. A bad feeling?

  He cupped my elbow and led me toward the line. “Did she try anything?”

  “No.”

  He was still glancing around the area. “Say anything threatening?”

  “No.”

  He sighed and I knew how ridiculous I sounded. “What’d she look like?”

  I shrugged. “Blonde, about twenty, maybe. Thin. Pretty.”

  “Sounds like a million other girls out there. Don’t worry about it.” He handed our tickets to the flight attendant.

  Don’t worry about it? Easier said than done. I’d just learned that I was America’s most wanted, kind of hard not to worry.

  And apparently I wasn’t the only one worried. As we started toward the airplane, I couldn’t help but notice that Maddox was walking much faster than normal.

  ****

  “Please turn off all cell phones and computers.” The overly cheerful flight attendant smiled prettily at us, but I didn’t miss the pointed glance at Maddox’s phone.

  The thought of anyone telling Maddox what to do made me laugh. Doing his best to glare me into silence, Maddox slid his cell into his pocket.

  “You could be a bit kinder to the man who saved your life.”

  I resisted the urge to give an unladylike snort. “You’re right. Where are my manners? I’m supposed to respect my elders.”

  “I’m three years older than you, hardly your elder,” he muttered.

  Three years? He seemed so much older. So much more secure and hardened by life. I felt like a naïve innocent next to him. “How’d you get into this line of business?”

  “My father.”

  Maddox had a dad. I could imagine what they did for fun, cage matches to the death. Leaning back in his seat, he stretched his long legs and rested his hands on his flat belly, getting comfortable. I only wished I could relax that easily. We were flying business class, which was like heaven compared to coach. So much room, I felt like I could do cartwheels.

  Yet, as much space as I had to relax, I couldn’t sleep. I glanced out the window, the ocean a deep blue below, spots of islands like pinpoints that interrupted the sea. We’d soon be in Atlanta, on another road to some odd journey I didn’t really understand. If my grandmother had escaped, would she be able to find me?

  “Rest,” Maddox whispered, turning his head toward me.

  He was close—too close—and his breath was warm and tempting across my lips. I had to remind myself that this man wasn’t my boyfriend. I barely even liked him. Even though there were over one hundred people on the plane, it felt like we were the only two. It felt… weird. I wasn’t sure how it felt. All I knew was it was so easy to slip into banter with him, so easy to share what I was feeling. As if I’d known him before…and I guess I had.

  “We’ll be landing in Atlanta in a couple hours; you should rest.”

  Because we had no idea what would be there upon arrival. He was right, I should rest. I needed to rest. My body had been running on adrenaline for a day now. But he smelled so darn good. Not the overwhelming cologne that most boys my age wore, but a subtle male scent that warmed my insides. With no makeup, not even a hair brush for the rat’s nest atop my head, he put me to shame. Nothing worse than a guy prettier than you.

  “I’m trying to rest,” I muttered, avoiding his gaze. I couldn’t think when he looked at me like that, as if reading my soul, as if he knew more about me than I did. Which, perhaps, he did.

  “What’s on your mind?”

  I released a wry laugh. “What isn’t? I’m worried about my Grandma. I don’t know where we’re going—”

  “Atlanta.”

  Obviously. They’d mentioned it on the plane a few times, the secret was out. “Yes, but where do we go after that?”

  “You’re on a need-to-know basis.”

  I had to resist the urge to hit him. He spoke to me like I was a soldier preparing for battle. Perhaps I was preparing for war, but I wasn’t about to head into battle knowing nothing. “I need to know now.”

  He stared at me for one long moment, those hard eyes unreadable. I wondered what he was thinking. I wished I had some inkling. Wished he didn’t have that chip to block his thoughts. Damn it all, I needed to know this man.

  He smiled a mysterious smile, as if he knew something I should too. “You really don’t remember anything, do you?”

  I should have been annoyed with his grin. Instead, I hesitated, looking away. I had remembered certain things, I just wasn’t sure I wanted him to know. Even though I was on a plane with Maddox, headed to only God knew where, I wasn’t completely sure I could trust him.

  Firm fingers wrapped around my forearm, the touch surprising. “You have remembered some things, haven’t you?”

  I flushed guiltily, staring at his tanned fingers wrapped around my arm. The contact of his skin on mine burned. No way I could deny it now, not with him watching me so intently. “I get flashes sometimes.”

  He didn’t react, outwardly anyway. Didn’t even flinch. But I saw it there, in his gaze, a myriad of emotions I hadn’t expected. Interest. Annoyance. Worry.

  He released his hold, and I drew my arm to my chest. I felt like he had branded me.

  “What,” he asked softly, his voice completely controlled. “Have you seen?”

  I shrugged and looked out the window. Patches of land were visible through a break in the clouds. We were headed into Florida. “You. I saw you while I was in the bathroom.”

  “You saw a flash of me while sitting on the toilet? Great.”

  I blushed and slid him an annoyed glance. Why couldn’t he ever be serious? “I was at the sink, and a memory of you came to mind.”

  He was silent for a moment. “That’s all you’re going to give me? Now who’s being vague?”

  I looked away. I wasn’t used to sharing my thoughts. I’d been taught to keep my secrets close; it was deeply ingrained. Yet, I needed to know the truth as much as he, and if he could explain some of my memories, it would be worth opening up. “I think you were being held prisoner in a small room. Like a basement or something. You were tied to a chair, bleeding.” I swallowed hard, the flash still disturbing. “Please tell me it was a memory and not some flash of the future?”

  He grinned. “You’re worried about me?”

  “Just answer.”

  He looked away, resting his head against his seat and closing his eyes, dismissing me. “Rest easy, sweetheart. It was a memory.”

  I felt better, but only for a moment. Dear God, he’d been beaten? “What happened?”

  He sighed and turned toward me once more. “I have a chip in my head that blocks my thoughts so mind readers can’t hear them. You broke through it.”

  It was like he was telling me some crazy storyline from a movie, something I couldn’t possibly believe. This couldn’t be my life. I wouldn’t do such things, would I? But even as I thought the words, deep down I knew them to be true. “Why would I do that?”

  “Because they told you to.”

  A cold weight settled on my chest, a feeling of dread that threatened to overwhelm me. I felt like I was headed into murky waters, drowning in my own horrible memories. How badly I’d wanted to know my past. Now, I wasn’t so sure. “Who are they?”

  “The people who used to have you.”

  “Who?” I persisted.

  He paused for one telling moment. “Your boyfriend.”

 
Lewis. The guy with the blue eyes. I pressed my palm to my chest, as if that could keep my heart from exploding. So much I didn’t understand, didn’t know. Yet one thing stood out clear… I’d been talked into hurting someone, hurting Maddox.

  I didn’t want to know anymore of who I was, or had been. I felt violated, misused, and I wasn’t even sure who to blame. My stomach roiled. I fumbled with my seatbelt.

  “Where you going?”

  “Bathroom.” I surged to my feet and stumbled over him.

  Fortunately, Maddox didn’t say a word as I fled down the aisle. This early in the morning, most people were napping. The few who were awake glanced my way, wondering over my pale face and stumbling footsteps. They thought I was going to puke. Some worried I had a contagious disease. My emotions were in turmoil, and my mental wall collapsed, allowing a flood of thoughts to burst into my head. I sucked in a sharp breath, pressing my fingers to my temples.

  God, I hate flying.

  Wonder if Jim will meet me at the airport.

  Have to get that report done by…

  So many thoughts, so many useless, pathetic thoughts from those around me. I wanted to scream for them all to shut the hell up. I wanted to tell them that their problems were nothing compared to mine. I needed to think, needed to understand…

  I slammed into a thin body smelling of flowers. Mentally cursing, I stumbled back a step. “Sorry,” I muttered, intending to go around the woman.

  “No worries.”

  The familiar voice gave me pause. I tilted my head upright and met the blue gaze of the blonde from the bathroom…from the market…from somewhere.

  “Hey.” She stepped closer, narrowing her eyes to half-moons. “I know you.”

  I glanced back, for some reason needing to see Maddox. I could just make out the back of his head at the front of the plane. “Yeah, we met at the airport.”

  Her face lit up. “Oh, wow! You’re with that really cute guy.”

  I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

  She giggled, actually giggled. “Can you do me a huge favor?”

  No, no, I couldn’t. “Umm, okay.” She hadn’t seemed this bubbly when we’d first met. Who the heck was she? She obviously hadn’t visited the island for her honeymoon. Some moron on spring vacation?

  She lifted her hand and held out a folded note. “Can you give this to the guy you’re sitting with? He’s so hot.”

  Dear God, she wasn’t serious, was she?

  She lifted a perfectly plucked brow, darker than her hair. Was she a bleached blonde? For some reason that made me feel better. She wasn’t perfect after all. “You’re not, like, dating, are you?”

  I flushed, annoyed and angered, although why I wasn’t sure. “No.” But my suspicions wouldn’t leave. Something was off; my very instincts screamed at me to run, which would be hard to do on a plane. Ever so slightly, I reached out with my mind, focusing only on her.

  I hope she gives him the note. He’s so cute.

  That’s what she was thinking? My instincts sucked. She was about as dangerous as Cinderella. Disgusted, I snatched the note from her fingers and started back, ignoring the woman’s words of thanks. It wasn’t until I was halfway down the aisle that I realized I had totally screwed up; Maddox and I were supposed to be married.

  “Here.” I tossed the note at Maddox as I climbed over him to get to my seat.

  He caught the paper, looking quizzically at me. “What is it?”

  “It’s from your girlfriend,” I sneered.

  “Okay.” He unfolded the note.

  As I slumped into my seat, I admit I glanced at the love letter, too curious not to know what Cinderella had to say. Probably something along the lines of, Do you like me? Check yes or no.

  Maddox curled his fingers, demolishing the note in his fist, but not before I had gotten a look at the message.

  Thinking of you, the note said.

  Nothing too dramatic, so why did Maddox look ready to kill the next person who walked down the aisle? He held up the wad of paper, his hard gaze on me. “Where the hell did you get this?”

  Startled by his harsh tone, I answered immediately. “A girl. Twenty. Twenty-one. I saw her just now. She asked me to give it to you.”

  He was oddly still, the only sign of his anger was a pulse ticking on the side of his jaw. “What’d she look like?”

  I shrugged. “She’s pretty. Really pretty. Blonde, thin. The girl from the market and airport.”

  “Enough.” He jerked his head forward, the paper falling to the ground. He clutched the armrests so tightly I thought he might break them free from the seat. Apparently, Maddox didn’t like pretty girls flirting with him.

  What the heck was going on?

  The intercom crackled overhead, interrupting my musings. “This is the captain speaking. We will be making an emergency landing in St. Petersburg, Florida. We ask that all passengers return to their seats and secure their seatbelts.”

  Maddox rested his head back against the seat and sighed. “Surprise, surprise.”

  Chapter 7

  “Hurry.” Maddox grabbed my hand and darted forward the moment we got off the plane.

  With only our backpack, empty of weapons, I raced beside him. “What about the luggage?” We’d used the money to buy some clothes and necessities that I wasn’t ready to leave behind.

  “Screw the luggage.”

  So much for necessities. We couldn’t seriously be running from a skinny blonde. Yet, we were definitely running from someone. The crowds were coming at us, surrounding us, consuming us like angry ants, but somehow Maddox managed to evade the travelers. We merely looked like two people trying to catch a flight. Still, we garnered more than a few stares and I was sure security was going to demand we stop at any moment.

  “Maddox,” I gasped, unable to catch my breath. “What the hell is going on?”

  I was so tired of being led around like a brainless doll. So tired of running from place to place with no real idea of who we were running from or why. I wanted answers and I wanted them now. I pulled my hand away from him.

  Maddox snapped his head toward me and narrowed his gaze. “Kind of running out of time here, sweetheart.”

  “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me the truth,” I hissed.

  Yes, there in the middle of the airport I stood my ground as travelers swept passed me, knocking me off balance, tossing me muttered curses for being in the way.

  Not that I didn’t want to leave. Believe me, I felt the need to run, but run where? And who to trust? Grandma may have trusted Maddox, but I wasn’t so sure anymore. Call it instinct, but since the moment I’d met him, I felt like there was something important he was leaving out.

  “Can this little tantrum wait?” he asked. “We’re running for our lives.”

  “Yeah, I’ve heard that before. It’s starting to lose its meaning.” I crossed my arms over my chest, refusing to budge. Besides, no one was going to attack us in the middle of the airport. At least I hoped not. “I want answers.”

  His gaze focused on some distant point behind me. “Well, it’s going to have to wait.”

  Curious, I turned. The blonde was headed our way, a smirk on her lips. “Seriously?” I whispered. What was she? Some robot, like The Terminator, sent to annihilate us?

  Maddox grabbed the backpack from me, slung it over his shoulders, took my hand and jerked me forward before I could protest.

  I still couldn’t quite believe we were running from Cinderella. I mean, what would she do to us? Stab us with her press-ons? Poke us in the eye with her fake lashes? Or better yet, bore us to death with her inane chatter about how gorgeous Maddox was?

  A man darted past us. My foot hit his suitcase, sending me off balance.

  “Damn,” Maddox snapped, leaping over the luggage. As I started to fall, he pulled me upright, like I was a sack of potatoes.

  “Maddox, where the hell are we going?”

  “I don’t know, all right?”

  He’d
finally admitted the truth, but it sure as heck didn’t make me feel any better. Had he truly said he didn’t know? Really? Because I had mistakenly assumed he was the one in charge, and might actually know what we were doing. The doors opened automatically and the humid Florida air hit us full force.

  A line of taxi cabs followed the sidewalk, whizzing in and out of traffic. In the distance I could hear the roar of airplanes taking off and landing. How I wished I was on one, headed away … headed anywhere but here.

  “There,” Maddox said. “The bus.”

  I’d had only a moment to catch my breath before he grabbed my hand and we were darting across the street. A taxi pressed on its breaks, coming inches from hitting us. Maddox slammed his fist atop the hood. “Watch out!”

  “Sorry!” I shouted toward the stunned driver.

  But I didn’t have time to worry. Just as we reached the blue and white bus, the doors snapped shut although it was obvious the driver hadn’t touched the handle. I could hear the murmured curses of the older woman as she pulled at the bar, attempting to open the doors with no such luck.

  What the hell? she thought. Why isn’t it working? She looked helplessly out the windows.

  “Come on,” Maddox muttered, pounding on the doors.

  I didn’t see Blondie, but apparently he was worried she was nearby. I didn’t understand why bulky, built Maddox was afraid of a petite blonde woman. I didn’t understand why the bus doors had closed on their own. I didn’t understand any of this.

  “Open it!” he snapped, looking directly at me.

  “Open what?”

  “The doors!”

  Was he seriously expecting me to magically open the doors? Or do some karate chop to the glass? “Yeah, I was absent the day we had Breaking and Entering 101 in school, so why don’t you tell me how I’m supposed to break the door down?”

  “Your mind!” he hissed.

  My mouth dropped open. “I can do that?”

  “Jesus, just forget it.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me around the front of the bus, toward another waiting vehicle. But the doors were closed and the driver was obviously preparing to leave. Maddox pounded on the door. The driver jumped, her surprised look quickly giving way to annoyance.

 
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